Category Archives: Field Notes

Field Notes: Taking a closer look at nature

Ron Kikel is a bird man. And an ant man. And a wasp guy. Those aren’t his superhero aliases – they’re descriptions of just some of his work as a conservation education specialist for the Mt. Hood National Forest.

But, Kikel is probably best known as the “owl guy.”

Meet Jack.

Jack, a 12-year old Great Horned Owl, is blind in one eye. He was rescued and rehabilitated by staff at the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which trains disabled raptors for use providing wildlife education. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
Jack, a 12-year old Great Horned Owl, is blind in one eye. He was rescued and rehabilitated by staff at the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which trains disabled raptors for use providing wildlife education. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack is a 12-year old Great Horned Owl. He’s also blind in one eye. Jack was rescued after tangling with some barbed wire, and rehabilitated several years ago by the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, which partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to care for disabled raptors and trains them for use in educational settings.

Kikel met Jack in 2010, at a Wild for Wildlife event. Jack was working with his caretaker, Dr. Jean Cypher, at the time to provide conservation education to students. Kikel was doing similar work for the Forest Service, using a taxidermied owl as a prop.

Their encounter inspired Kikel to pursue training to become a raptor handler, himself.

 
Jack, a disabled Great Horned Owl, assists Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler, with providing conservation education talks around the region. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack, a disabled Great Horned Owl, assists Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler, with providing conservation education talks around the region. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

“With taxidermy, you are mostly talking about anatomy. Kids ask a lot of questions about where the bird came from, sometimes it gets a little off-track,” he said. “Show them the live owl, and you have their attention for at 30 minutes, at least.”

These days, Jack and Kikel work as a team to provide conservation education at schools and public events located near Kikel’s “home base” at the Hood River Ranger District in Parkdale, Oregon.

 
Jack the Great Horned Owl poses with Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler. For the past few years, the pair have worked as a team to provide conservation education for classrooms and community groups around their area.  Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Jack the Great Horned Owl poses with Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant on the Mt. Hood National Forest and trained raptor handler. For the past few years, the pair have worked as a team to provide conservation education for classrooms and community groups around their area. Courtesy photo provided by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Sometimes, Jack even joins him at the ranger station’s front desk, where Kikel provides visitor information and the owl has his own perch.

“He’s a star. Everyone likes him a lot,” Kikel said. “He’s probably the best coworker I’ve ever had.”

"This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. "If you look at their eyes, they're more fly-like.. and there's no stinger. (But) when you're camouflaged like that, you're less likely to become someone's dinner." Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. “If you look at their eyes, they’re more fly-like.. and there’s no stinger. (But) when you’re camouflaged like that, you’re less likely to become someone’s dinner.” Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Kikel isn’t just a bird man, he’s also a bug guy. He’s known in the Forest Service’s regional conservation education community for his nature photos, many of which feature dramatic close-ups of the nature he finds around him.

In his prior career, photography was Kikel’s job. He served 20 years in the Air Force, 12 of them as a photographer working in medical research and forensics.

“I worked at Wilford Hall, a big research hospital. So we had an infectious disease lab, dermatology, poison control. They’d want (close-up) photos for teaching, so I took some courses in it,” he said.

"This is a hoverfly, I found him on a sunflower last summer," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He explained the insect is a fly species that looks much like a bee. "If you look at their eyes, they're more fly-like.. and there's no stinger. (But) when you're camouflaged like that, you're less likely to become someone's dinner." Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“(This dragonfly) was at a pond near the (Columbia River Gorge) Discovery Center in The Dalles. I think that was last summer,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. The photo was taken from about 12″ away, using a Nikon D50 camera and 105mm macro lens. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Today, skills he once used to photograph scorpions and fire ants for environmental health brochures given to deploying service members are the same ones he now uses to capture breathtaking images of Pacific Northwest beetles, birds and butterflies.

To avoid disturbing his subjects, Kikel often works with minimal gear, often taking photos with just an old Nikon D-50 camera, a manual macro lens, and sometimes a flash.

A ladybug makes a meal of an aphid.  "She's so busy munching down, she didn't even notice me," Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. Kikel makes a hobby of his love for nature through photography, with a special focus on landscapes and macro (close-up) photography. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
A ladybug makes a meal of an aphid. “She’s so busy munching down, she didn’t even notice me,” Ron Kikel, an information assistant for Hood River Ranger District on the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. Kikel makes a hobby of his love for nature through photography, with a special focus on landscapes and macro (close-up) photography. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Despite the seeming spontaneity of this approach, he said macro photography is actually a very slow-going endeavor.

“It takes a lot of patience, because your subjects aren’t going to sit still,” he said.

This Marsh Hawk was in the rehabilitation enclosure at the Rowna Wildlife Clinic, Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He said he spends a lot of time studying his subject's features, and it's hard not to imagine his subjects' have an inner emotional life, much like humans. “You go into an enclosure with big birds, and they can be pretty foreboding-looking when they are not happy,” he said.  
Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
This Marsh Hawk was in the rehabilitation enclosure at the Rowna Wildlife Clinic, Ron Kikel, an Information Assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest, said. He said he spends a lot of time studying his subject’s features, and it’s hard not to imagine his subjects’ have an inner emotional life, much like humans. “You go into an enclosure with big birds, and they can be pretty foreboding-looking when they are not happy,” he said.
Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

These days, Kikel said, he considers his photography to be not his job, but his passion.

But he still finds lots of inspiration at the office.

“Mt. Hood is right outside my window… I can watch it change with the seasons,” he said.

An autumn photo of Opal Creek, Ore. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
An autumn photo of Opal Creek, Ore. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

While Kikel credits patience for his most successful shots, he said sometimes a little luck is also required.

He was experimenting with a new camera when he caught a striking image of a Cooper Hawk perched just outside his bedroom.

This Cooper Hawk made a late-February, 2019 appearance at the bird feeder outside Ron Kikel's home. "He takes the word 'bird feeder' to a whole new level," Kikel said, saying the hawk left hungry that day, but has since killed at least one bird who came to feed there. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
This Cooper Hawk made a late-February, 2019 appearance at the bird feeder outside Ron Kikel’s home. “He takes the word ‘bird feeder’ to a whole new level,” Kikel said, saying the hawk left hungry that day, but has since killed at least one bird who came to feed there. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

“I was shooting (pictures of) the birds at my feeder, through the window, and suddenly they all bolted,” he said. “Then I looked up, and said ‘well, that’s why… I’d better get this dude’s picture before he takes off!’”

Whether he’s providing customer service at the ranger station, giving wildlife education talks, or providing tours of Cloud Cap Inn, it’s the interpretive element that drew him to his job.

Ron Kikel took this photo of a heron while visiting Seaside, Ore. in early March, 2019. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
Ron Kikel took this photo of a heron while visiting Seaside, Ore. in early March, 2019. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Seeing the world through a different lens, and being able to share it, is what draws him to photography, as well.

“It’s really an incredible world, when you see it close up,” he said.

"Rufus," a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), photographed by  
Ron Kikel, an information assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest. "I tend to anthropomorphize my subjects," he said. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
“Rufus,” a Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), photographed by
Ron Kikel, an information assistant for the Mt. Hood National Forest. “I tend to anthropomorphize my subjects,” he said. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

Source information: Catherine “Cat” Caruso is the strategic communication lead for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement, and edits the “Your Northwest Forests” blog. You can reach her at ccaruso@fs.fed.us.

A field filled with wildlflowers at Dalles Mountain State Ranch in Washington, spring 2017. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).
A field filled with wildlflowers at Dalles Mountain State Ranch in Washington, spring 2017. Courtesy photo by Ron Kikel (used with permission).

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree team says ‘hello’ to Ohio!

The 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree arrives in Harrison, Ohio Nov. 23, 2018. Courtesy photo by the Joy Trip Project (used with permission).

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 23rd, 2018
St. Louis, Mo.

Hello, Ohio!

We left the “gateway to the west” and headed due east 321 miles to Harrison, Ohio today. Its amazing how far away Oregon seems, both in space and time.

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The people of Harrison were amazed we had traveled so far, and seemed happy we chose to stop in their little town. We pulled into town to the cheers of over 3,000 people!

Harrison has a beautiful, nostalgic, historic downtown, and that’s where we conducted our last Capitol Christmas tree “whistle stop” event before the tree-lighting.

It was quite a scene! A men’s a cappella group sang as the tree rolled into town, accompanied by the clapping of the crowd. As soon as the tree stopped, several thousand people converged to sign the banners and to take pictures.

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I’m afraid I may have to adjust my view when I return to the real world. Throughout this trip people have offered us free coffee, food, and snacks.

The people of Harrison treated our entire team with our own tray of cookies from their amazing local bakery. So yummy!

People are so kind. You wouldn’t necessarily know it with what you see on the TV or in print, but it’s true; there is still a lot of kindness in the world. I feel so blessed to have seen it for myself.

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After dinner, our group went on an impromptu tour with a local historian to see the city’s underground tunnel.

President William Henry Harrison, who is buried nearby, was one of the proponents for the tunnel. He even sold his land to help pay for the tunnel’s construction. The tunnel was built from wood and brick, made from rock mined just outside the city. It was originally built to move water as part of the Whitewater Canal system, but has been has been used for many things throughout the years.

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Several people I talked to at the event said they were very happy to have the tree in their town.

They had many reasons.

Some people came to see their first noble fir tree, some came to sign the banner and add their name to the tens of thousands on our giant rolling “Christmas card,” others came to see some of the 10,000 hand-crafted ornaments Oregonians made to decorate the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree (and other trees in side the U.S. Capitol building).

Some said they came to see it because just could not miss this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Some came for the events offered for their children, like ice skating on plastic composite “ice,” and making ornaments for their tree at home.

And then there were those who came specifically to see the truck!

The Kenworth W990 is fresh off the show room floor, and wrapped in a special 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree design.  Delivering the tree to the U.S. Capitol is its maiden voyage. Presence, power and personal style wrapped in a world class design that redefines the long hood conventional truck cab, with plenty of room for snacks, like our very large box of cheese-its!

What a show-stopper!

What a wonderful way to finish our tour! Tomorrow we have a quick stop, and then we are on to Maryland for the night and to deliver the tree to Joint Base Andrews. On Monday, we’ll deliver the tree to the U.S. Capitol!

PS: Even though the “whistle stops” are over, I will continue to blog until the tree is lit on December 5th.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

 

 

 

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree team celebrates Thanksgiving in St. Louis

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 22nd, 2018
St. Louis, Mo.

Celebrating the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree at the St. Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and I am 2,054 miles from home. But I’m thankful for the technology that allows me to correspond without the need for the Pony Express.

It’s harder than I thought it would be to be away from my family during the holiday, and I don’t think I was alone in feeling that way. Emotions were near the surface for many of us this morning.

But our day was brightened by the parade!

Here we are getting ready to hand out some Smokey swag to parade goers!

And here we are, making our way to the parade route.

What an amazing thing to be a part of! The St. Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade is the second largest Thanksgiving Day parade in the United States. It was broadcast on live TV, and occasionally the parade would pause for a commercial break.

There were nearly 150 entries, including the amazing animal balloons that are filled with helium. I had only seen those on TV before today. They are pretty cool on TV.  They are WAY COOLER in person.

Smokey Bear and firefighters from the nearby Mark Twain National Forest joined our entry. It was a toss up over who had the most fans between the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and Smokey Bear. Combined, I’m pretty sure they stole the show….. but, I’m only a little bit biased. Cries of “SMOKEY BEAR!” and “Look it’s the tree!” followed us along the entire parade route.

After the parade, we all ate together as a “tree team family.” We had a fantastic dinner.

Several people were heard to say that it was the best food they had ever eaten, from the butter, to the main course, to the desert. I, myself, have never remarked on the excellence of butter before tonight, but I was not alone in stating this particular fact out loud!

Some of us had traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner, and some ventured away from the holiday menu. But all enjoyed their meal!

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Following dinner, we dispersed to nap, exercise, or to call family back home.

After so many days and nights on the road, we’re all thankful to spend two nights in the same hotel and to have an opportunity to rest up a bit before the journey begins anew in the morning.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

 

 

 

 

 

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree completes Oregon Trail leg

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 21st, 2018
St. Louis, Mo.

We have completed the Oregon Trail portion of our journey!

Today, we reached Independence, Mo., where the Oregon Trail began.

Although we and the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree are not done with our journey, this marks a major milestone for us, as it means we have traveled the length of the entire Oregon trail during our trip.

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There is a monument, here, that to mark the starting point for the Oregon Trail.

It reads: “This monument honors the pioneer spirit of these courageous men and women who by their heroic trek across the continent established homes and civilization in the far northwest.”

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Ahead of those pioneers lay 2,000 miles of prairies, river crossings, mountains and whatever weather nature dished out. Ahead lay a dream of land ownership and a better way of life.

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A modern day “covered wagon”!

Independence, Mo. was a river port which specialized in outfitting travel along the Oregon Trail, and it was our first stop for the day.

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What a lovely event it was! There were wonderful people dressed in historic pioneer clothing that helped make covered wagon ornaments. The library provided maps of our route along the Oregon Trail, and read several pioneer stories to the children.

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Some days, the world seems smaller than others. Today was one of those days. I met a lovely couple who are good friends with the people who won the “find your ornament” contest on the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, where I work.

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I took their photo so their friend could see they were there. This sort of thing has happened throughout the trip, with family members signing the banner and then taking a photo to send to relatives so that they can sign in the same place at future stops.

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It continuously amazes me how connected we are, even when we are separated by 2,000 miles. I suppose similar experience happened to the Oregon Trail pioneers as they carved their name in a rock or left messages for those coming after them.

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After the Independence event, we traveled to the nearby Mt. Washington Cemetery because we heard that Jim Bridger’s memorial was there. Jim Bridger was such an instrumental part of the Oregon Trail story that we just HAD to go and see it. Not even a washed out bridge with a narrow crossing could stop us from our mission!

We found the grave site, and felt the power of connection once more. It was only a few days before that we stood in a snowstorm at Fort Bridger, where Jim advised and outfitted so many pioneers as they progressed on the trail.

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Our next stop was St. Louis, Missouri. Members of our tree team hurried, even jogging part of the way, to attempt to reach the Gateway Arch before it closed for the day!

We didn’t make it in time to go in the arch, but we were able to go into the museum and to explore around the arch.

It was a beautiful night with a nearly full moon and the place seemed absolutely enchanted.

The arch is an engineering masterpiece! It is so amazing.  This is a place I will return to, when I have more time to explore.

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The museum under the arch was also incredible. St. Louis is often referred to as the Gateway to the West because it was a popular gathering area for many people who later settled in the western territories.

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The museum had many exhibits and some great video of what life on the Oregon Trail might have looked like, as well as several first hand account displays of what life was like during the great human migration to the west.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

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SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree makes way from Perry, Kansas to Kansas City, Mo.

Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home district ranger (Willamette National Forest) road in a stagecoach with the mayor and Santa Claus during the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree whistle stop event in Perry, Kansas Nov. 20, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 20th, 2018
Kansas City, Mo.

Nebraska City, Nebraska… to Perry, Kansas… to Kansas City, Missouri!

Three states in one day! Today was a mighty fine day that took us and the 2018 Capitol Christmas tree on quite an adventure, from small town America to the big city.

We had two “whistle stop” events today, which could not have been more different – but were both amazing.

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We started the day traveling from Nebraska City, Neb. to Perry, Kansas, 131 miles away.  The weather was again good. We’ve been blessed with good weather. We’ve have had many more good days than bad on this adventure.

The city of Perry pulled out all of the stops! All of my favorite things were present; there were horses, children, and Smokey! I got to ride with the stagecoach driver to transport the Governor, the Mayor, and SANTA! What a special treat.

Our arrival was welcomed with American flags lining the road. Perry’s community pride was evident throughout the celebration. The kind staff at the high school prepared lunch for us. We were very thankful.

The event was at the high school, and the younger students were bussed over.

I think this stop had the most young people present of any event we’ve had, so far. The leaders of today and tomorrow signed the banners and learned a bit more about the Forest Service and the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

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Our final stop for the day was Kansas City, Mo., 53 miles from our last stop.  We were welcomed by a life size statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Quite the contrast to Perry. We were definitely not in Kansas any more!

The event was held at Union Station an absolutely beautiful building inside and out.  It was decorated for Christmas with lights and ribbon and a model train for the young, and the young at heart.

Several sponsors donated giveaways such as hats and pins. There was also free food for everyone including fresh dipped caramel apples, s’mores, pretzels and hot dogs!

This was a bountiful day for food. Unlike the Oregon Trail pioneers, no one in our group went hungry.

The skill of our drivers and the aid of local law enforcement were once again instrumental to our successful day.

Maneuvering the tree on city streets during rush hour was tricky business.

Not everyone understands that big trucks need a whole lot of room. And, it’s such a sight to see that people just naturally just stop what they are doing to stare and watch it go by.

Tomorrow is a big day, we go to Independence, Mo. to the official starting point of the Oregon Tail, marking a significant milestone in our journey.

Happy trails, until then!

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

The 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree team conducted its second whistle stop event of the day at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo. Nov. 20, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home district ranger, is travelling with the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree from Willamette National Forest, Oregon to Washington D.C. The tree is traveling a reverse route along the Oregon Trail National Historic Trail, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Act. Here, Swanson poses with a tree at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo. Nov. 20, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

 

 

 

 

 

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree visits home of Arbor Day

The 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree stopped in Nebraska City, Nebraska for a whistlestop event, Nov. 19, 2018. The tree team left Douglas Fir saplings from Oregon as a gift to the city, which was home to the first Arbor Day celebration. Courtesy photo by The Joy Trip Project (used with permission).

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 19th, 2018
Nebraska City, Neb.

Hello from the Arbor Day capital, Nebraska City! 

We traveled 445 miles across the entire state of Nebraska, today.

That journey would have taken a wagon train a solid 30 days, assuming there was no trouble along the way.

Nebraska was the state where unneeded belongings were dropped along the trail as the realities of plains travel caused pioneers to reassess what was needed and what was not. Grandma’s rocking chair and the dining room table had to be left behind when it became obvious that the oxen were struggling through the dry grasslands of the high prairie and the mountains were yet to come.

Our weather was fine, clear, and perfect for making good time.

We started our day near the city of Scottsbluff with a sunrise photo stop at the iconic Chimney Rock.

After days along the Platte River (which literally means flat), the 325 foot Chimney Rock was a notable landmark that is described in the journal entries of many pioneers.

It was by far the most mentioned landmark along the Oregon Trail.

It was inspiring to see this geologic formation and to witness with my own eyes the exact view of the Oregon Trail travelers, 75 years ago.

We rolled into Nebraska City for a lovely evening event. There were children caroling and warm food and drinks for all.

It’s not an accident that the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree made a stop in the city also known as the “Arbor Day capital.”

What a beautiful city! There were trees EVERYWHERE.

We left behind some seedlings from our Oregon State tree, the Douglas fir, which seemed like a fitting gift for the city that hosted our country’s first Arbor Day celebration (in April 1885, with tree plantings, a parade, and crowd more than 1,000 people strong!).

One of my favorite Oregon Trail stories is of an emigrant wagon carrying fruit trees along the entire length of the trail.

Henderson Luelling made the journey pulling two extra wagons carrying apple, cherry, plum, pear and walnut trees. This endeavor resulted in Henderson becoming a millionaire, and the Willamette Valley being populated by fruit trees that are ancestors of the trees we enjoy there, today!

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree delivers season’s greetings in Nebraska

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree crossed Scotts Bluff National Monument on Nebraska's Great Plains Nov. 18, 2018. The tree is traveling from Sweet Home Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon, where it was harvested, to the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., where it will be delivered with 10,000 handmade ornaments to decorate the Capitol lawn this holiday season. Courtesy photo by Andrew Smith, Adventure Photography. Used with permission

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 18th, 2018
Scottsbluff, Neb.

Season’s greetings and holiday cheer on the Great Plains

What a beautiful day! Blue skies and incredible scenery pass our windows as our modern-day wagon train rolls by.

High prairie grasslands, golden in the sun, and the most incredible rock formations I have ever seen are dusted with the snow from yesterday’s storm.

Oh, what a difference a day makes!

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This morning, we stopped at the Historic Territorial Prison in Laramie, Wyoming.

This beautiful state park was a prison in the late 1800’s and helped to maintain law and order during the wild, wild, west. It was used to lock up notorious outlaws, such as Butch Cassidy.

The site now offers historic buildings, museum exhibits, a gift shop, and today, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

Quite a few people came out to sign the banner, have photos taken with Smokey Bear, and to wish the tree team well on our way to Washington D.C.

Our next stop was 147 miles away. We said “farewell” to Wyoming and “hello” to Nebraska with a stop in Scottsbluff, Neb.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree team stops for a photo while cleaning road grime from the truck during a stop in Scottsbluff, Neb. before continuing to Scotts Bluff National Monument Nov. 18, 2018. The "Return to the Oregon Trail" tour left Laramie, Wyo. and continued to Scotts Bluff National Monument and Scottsbluff, Neb. en route to thThe U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree visited Scotts Bluff National Monument Nov. 18, 2018. The "Return to the Oregon Trail" tour left Laramie, Wyo. and continued to Scotts Bluff National Monument and Scottsbluff, Neb. en route to the U.S. Capitol. USDA Forest Service photo.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree team stops for a photo while cleaning road grime from the truck during a stop in Scottsbluff, Neb. before continuing to Scotts Bluff National Monument Nov. 18, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

The first thing we did upon arriving was to wash the truck, trailer, and all of the support vehicles. The storm had left all of the vehicles coated in icy, sandy, grime!

Once everything was sparkly-clean, we drove up to Scotts Bluff National Monument for a photo shoot.

Here’s the view from my window as we drove past the bluffs.

What a beautiful area!

Big, reddish colored rocks rising like giant castles seemingly touch the sky, above the golden plains.

Majestic.

Magnificent.

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It’s incredible to think about the half-million travelers on the Oregon trail who marveled at the exact geologic formations I stood marveling at, 175 years later.

Some things change, and some things stay the same.

This evening, the City of Scottsbluff hosted a wonderful nighttime parade, with several thousand spectators in attendance.

The mayors of Scottsbluff and Gering, Neb. also proclaimed November 18th, 2018 as “U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Day.”

When the tree stopped at the end of the parade, everyone converged on the tree, eager to sign it and to see the noble fir and the beautiful, handcrafted ornaments.

Once again, the atmosphere was joyful and full of peace and good will. I have never in my life experienced 30 days of joy, in a row. This tree has shown me that there is still joy in the world even though it can sometimes be hard to find around us. It is there, just under the surface, waiting to emerge if given the opportunity.

A sign in the city of Scottsbluff, Neb. advertises a nighttime Christmas parade and visit from the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Nov. 18. 2018. T

The city of Scottsbluff, Neb. hosted a nighttime Christmas parade Nov. 18. 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

I, for one will be looking for the hidden joy every where I go from here on out. I think I might be addicted to joy now. I’m ruined forever, in the best possible way.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

PS: Check out this aerial footage of our U.S. Capitol Christmas tree “modern-day wagon train” as it travels through Scotts Bluff National Monument, courtesy of Andrew Smith at Adventure Photograpy.

 

 

 

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree finds first snow in Wyoming

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


 

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November 17th, 2018
Laramie, Wyo.

It’s not an Oregon Trail adventure without a weather delay!

The weather forecasters were correct.  It snowed… enough to close the interstate! 

But we found a cozy little place to hole up and wait for the roads to re-open in Little America, Wyo.

Our morning event in Fort Bridger, Wyo. was fantastic. People drove more than 70 miles through the snow to see the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. Joy was in the air, swirling with the snowflakes floating down on us!

Fort Bridger is named for Jim Bridger, a mountain man who carried a map of the continent in his head from all his exploring of the “west” back when the maps were still blank.

When the fur trade ended, he established Fort Bridger.

In his journal, he wrote: “I have established a small fort with a blacksmith shop and a supply of iron in the road of the emigrants on Blacks Fork of Green River, which promises fairly.  They, in coming out, are generally well supplied with money, but by time they get there are in want of all kinds of supplies…. Horses, provisions, smith work, etc…”

Jim Bridger was not much of a builder, but he was free with his advice. If he was not out wandering somewhere, his advice was welcomed at this critical junction of the Oregon and California trails.

We left Fort Bridger knowing  the interstate was closed ahead due to snow, ice, high winds, and numerous crashes. We decided to pass the time at the Little America Truck Stop and wait for the road to open, inadvertently making the day of everyone else waylaid by the weather. Word of our presence at the truck stop quickly became known. Many more signatures were added and many selfies taken. We were grateful for the warmth of the building, and our unscheduled visitors. We could have been “stuck” in a much worse location!

I imagine encountering snow and sub freezing temperatures in a covered wagon, while wearing a cotton-printed prairie dress and bonnet, would likely have ended in tragedy.  We had our fancy fluffy down jackets and a truck stop complete with central heating, tables and chairs, and hot food made-to-order.

Four hours later the word “open” started to float through the air.  Sure enough, the rumor was true. The interstate had re-opened!

We quickly gathered our gear and hit the road before hundreds of other trucks and travelers beat us to it.  Best to be at the front of the wagon train when it started moving again!

The roads were still slick. Traffic moved slowly, and carefully. At times we were only moving six miles-per-hour. My horse is faster!

It was a long, slow trip, but we eventually made it to Laramie, Wyo., exhausted but alive.

I was grateful.

Our ancestors may not have survived such a trip.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

 

 

 

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree tour enjoys good weather, high spirits

A Soda Springs, Idaho grade school choir performs during a 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree whistlestop

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in the western Cascade mountain range. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 16th, 2018
Evanston, Wyo.

Here we have Idaho

There’s truly one state in this great land of ours,
where ideals can be realized.
The pioneers made it so for you and me,
a legacy we’ll always prize.

– a verse from “Here We Have Idaho”
(Idaho state song)

Here we have Idaho… and Utah… and Wyoming!

We traveled 203 miles through this fine land, from Pocatello, Idaho to Evanston, Wyo., with a stop in Soda Springs, Idaho – and we even passed through a wee bit of Utah along the way!

The weather was good.  We are told we should enjoy it while it lasts; there is a snow storm a-brewing.

Pocatello welcomed us with open arms. There were so many people who came out to sign the banner and to wish us well on our journey. I have to say, the people of Idaho are the most polite, yet. At other stops along the way, people would surround our booth in crowds six-people deep. The polite people of Pocatello formed a civilized line  I wonder if you can tell the character of a town by how they gather?

Our next stop was Soda Springs, which was a favorite location for weary pioneer travelers who loved the natural carbonated water and Steamboat Spring, a natural geyser that is now submerged below the waters of Alexandria Reservoir.

Soda Springs is small town America at its finest. They set up bleachers and treated us all to performances from their grade school choir, middle school cheerleaders, the high school dance team, and the high school band.  So much talent assembled in one place!

The drive from Soda Springs to Evanston was beautiful. Big views and beautiful rock formations made the miles pass quickly. The little bit of Utah that we saw was also beautiful.

Water for livestock was still scarce, luckily we have none with us. 

The theme of the day was family connections. Parents brought children to see this little piece of history. We enjoyed many conversations about ancestors who made their way west along the Oregon Trail, and locals explained the history behind landmarks and streets named to remember those who came before us on the trail.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree enters Idaho

The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree and team stop at the headquarters of Sawtooth National Forest en route from Baker City, Ore. to Pocatello, Idaho

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in central Oregon. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 15th, 2018
Pocotello, Idaho.

Goodbye, Oregon. Hello, Idaho!

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Just a short entry today, as there were no stops. Today was a big travel day, 359 miles from Baker City, Oregon to Pocatello, Idaho.

What took us six hours took the Oregon Trail pioneers twenty days!

It was arid country, without much in the way of water. Fine for us, but it would have been difficult for those early trail travelers to find enough water for their livestock.

For much of the way, travelers could only look down from the high rock on the rim of the Snake River Canyon to the water below.

The rocks along the route must have created difficulties for the wagon wheels and the soles of the pioneers boots. One of the early pioneers described this stretch of trail this way: “It’s dust from morning until night, with now and then a sprinkling of gnats and mosquitoes, and as far as the eye can reach it is nothing but a sandy desert, covered with wild sage brush, dried up with heat; however, it makes good firewood.”

We ended the day near Fort Hall, which was the last trading post along the Oregon Trail for many miles. It was a place where travelers could resupply, fix wagons, trade out weary livestock and rest up a bit for the next part of the journey – one of the hardest of the entire trail. (It would have been hard to rest, though, given the millions of mosquitoes sharing the river valley with the pioneers).

I got to ride shotgun in the semi pulling the tree! What an amazing experience, to see the Snake River plains from this perspective.

It was fun to get to know the driver of the day and CEO of Central Oregon Trucking Company, Rick Williams. He was so proud to be a part of the tree team, and we are so lucky to have him and his company as a partner.

He and his drivers are so skilled and so professional… good thing too! There were some sporty moments negotiating some of the turns, but with the skill of the drivers and the help of Forest Service and local law enforcement, the truck made its way safely.

PS: See below for a lovely video montage of the tree as it traveled through Oregon, courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

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